I’d ar­rived in Salalah on Mon­day evening on what I’d as­sumed to be a run-ofthe-mill work trip. You know, get shown around the place, in­ter­view a few peo­ple, send in a story for the next day’s pa­per and then head back home.

Lit­tle did I know though, that this trip was to be like no other I’d ever been on. I’d been in­vited to rep­re­sent Times of Oman at the of­fi­cial open­ing of Hawana Salalah, the city’s first aqua park, and while this is nor­mally some­thing that only ex­cites chil­dren (or in­deed, the child in us), Hawana’s ar­rival seemed to ex­cite many of Oman’s top min­is­te­rial brass.

We’d ar­rived to wit­ness the open­ing of the Sul­tanate’s lat­est tourism of­fer­ing on Wed­nes­day evening, just as the sun’s golden rays were bounc­ing off the many pools in­side Hawana. A de­cent crowd – pri­mar­ily made up of park staff and or­gan­is­ers – had al­ready as­sem­bled, but my at­ten­tion was drawn past them, beyond the screen of para­mil­i­tary Royal Oman Po­lice.

Hawana Salalah is Oman’s new­est aqua park, and en­sures there is some­thing for ev­ery­one in the fam­ily to en­joy.

All of Oman’s top gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were as­sem­bled be­hind them. En­gaged in earnest con­ver­sa­tion, it was great to see Ahmed bin Nasser Al Mehrizi, the Sul­tanate’s Min­is­ter of Tourism, hold forth as the min­utes ticked down to Hawana’s of­fi­cial in­au­gu­ra­tion. Mehrizi, though, was only one of two chief guests who’d pre­side over the much-awaited rib­bon cut­ting cer­e­mony.

The other was Mo­hammed bin Sul­tan Al Bu­saidi, Oman’s Min­is­ter for State and the Gover­nor of Dho­far. Truth be told, I felt a bit goosepim­ply in that room. It wasn’t due to the air-con­di­tion­ing (there wasn’t need for any, be­cause the con­stant cool winds from the sea meant Hawana Salalah al­ways re­mained cool), but be­cause here I was, on yet an­other mo­men­tous step on Oman’s his­tor­i­cal lad­der of de­vel­op­ment.

Be­fore the fes­tiv­i­ties be­gan, though, we’d been given a chance to see the park for our­selves, and like most things Omani, there is a cer­tain un­der­stated ap­peal to Hawana Salalah that grows on you over time.

Hawana have en­sured there is some­thing for ev­ery­body at their new wa­ter park: from the twist­ing, turn­ing slides that en­sure peo­ple have a thrill of a life­time without quite know­ing when they’re go­ing to hit the wa­ter with an almighty splash and the slip-and-slides which make you feel weight­less for just that split sec­ond be­fore com­ing back to earth and re­peat that a few more times be­fore you’re de­posited,

grin­ning from ear to ear, in a pool that you just can’t help but lounge around in for a few more sec­onds than you know is ap­pro­pri­ate.

But that’s the charm of Dho­far’s first wa­ter park. It’s so en­tic­ingly wel­com­ing – and I mean that in a good way – that you just don’t want to leave. Their kid­die pool, a vast wa­ter fea­ture com­plete with a plethora of fun wa­ter fea­tures, in­clud­ing one of those big buck­ets that splashes wa­ter on you ev­ery few min­utes, oc­cu­pies a good quar­ter of Hawana, with a ca­bana that’s set slightly away from the rest of the prop­erty pro­vid­ing both pri­vacy and re­lax­ation to fam­i­lies.

You might feel a bit jit­tery if you’ve come un­pre­pared, but Hawana has taken care of that as well: their shop, con­ve­niently lo­cated at the en­trance, right next to the aqua park’s food court, which caters to a plethora of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional tastes, serv­ing ev­ery­thing from ap­pe­tis­ers to ice cream to pizza and ev­ery­thing in be­tween.

But this is just phase one of Hawana’s planned tourist des­ti­na­tion. Con­struc­tion be­gan on the wa­ter park in March 2017, and was com­pleted at the end of De­cem­ber, at a cost of OMR5 mil­lion. Salalah’s new aquatic adventure will span 65,600sqm when com­pleted, and is set to be one of the big­gest en­deav­ours by Muriya, a joint com­pany formed by the fusion of Egyp­tian tourism de­vel­op­ment com­pany Oras­com and Omran, the Sul­tanate’s leisure in­vest­ment arm.

Hawana is, of course, part of the Sul­tanate of Oman’s Tan­feedh plans for eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, the nation’s am­bi­tious in­ten­tions to grad­u­ally wean it­self off of fos­sil fu­els and ex­pand its econ­omy to in­clude other sources of rev­enue.

Be­fore the open­ing of the park, I was able to catch up with Hani Salama, Hawana’s man­ager.

“We orig­i­nally had three prices for our guests,” said Hani Salama, Hawana’s man­ager. “Those who are more than 110 cen­time­tres tall will need to pay OMR10 to en­ter, while those who are un­der that height level can en­ter for OMR5. Guests who want to come to Hawana but not swim also need to pay OMR 5, and chil­dren un­der the age of three can en­ter for free.

“Af­ter we had a trial open­ing and did some mar­ket re­search, we found that there were many fam­i­lies ask­ing us for a spe­cial rate, so we de­cided to in­tro­duce a spe­cial pack­age for OMR20 for two adults and two chil­dren,” he added, “Be­cause we ex­pect many fam­i­lies to come here, we also set up the ca­bana a lit­tle bit far away from the rest of the aqua park so that

we can give them some pri­vacy.”

Along­side agri­cul­ture, man­u­fac­tur­ing, port ser­vices and lo­gis­tics, tourism has been ear­marked as one of the prime ar­eas for ex­pan­sion and di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion in Oman, and Salalah rep­re­sents a pre­vi­ously hith­erto un­tapped mar­ket with tremen­dous po­ten­tial.

Po­ten­tial that is al­ready slowly be­ing re­alised: Hawana is just one of four tourism de­vel­op­ment prop­er­ties that have come up in the same area. Three re­sorts, cur­rently fully booked, have also been set up next to the aqua park, each cater­ing to a dif­fer­ent clien­tele, and are chock full with world-class ameni­ties, in­clud­ing restau­rants, spas, wa­ter sports, shops, gyms and even reg­u­lar trips to town.

While Al Fa­nar caters mostly to fam­i­lies, Rotana Salalah has made its name as a busi­ness ho­tel. If you’re look­ing for some­thing that is quite lit­er­ally be­tween the two though, the lux­u­ri­ous bou­tique apart­ments of Juweira are what you’re look­ing for.

Salalah was once the heart­beat of the global frank­in­cense trade, with the re­gions of Khor Rori, Samharam, Wadi Dawka, and Al Baleed once recog­nised as the cen­tre of the an­cient world’s trade in this sought-af­ter resin, which was once worth its weight in gold. All of the re­sorts or­gan­ise reg­u­lar vis­its to these lo­ca­tions, which are now Unesco her­itage sites, and are seen by tourists the world over.

“This plan was part of our com­mit­ment to not just im­prove the tourism of­fer­ings that Oman has, not just to in­crease the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional tourists, but to also pro­vide more fa­cil­i­ties for lo­cal tourists within Oman,” added Peter Walich­nowski, CEO for Omran. “Hawana is part of that plan, be­cause this is an at­trac­tion that will be liked not just by for­eign tourists, but also by those in the Sul­tanate, and the lo­cals in the Dho­far re­gion, and that’s why this is one that will be ap­pre­ci­ated by ev­ery­body.”

Oman has plenty to of­fer to tourists from around the world, whether they are look­ing for their trou­bles to melt away as they lis­ten to the calm­ing sounds of the waves lap­ping against the seashore as palm fronds serenely sway over­head, or they chase the adren­a­line that comes with scal­ing the Sul­tanate’s awe­some moun­tains and ford­ing its pic­turesque wadis.

Or, in the case of Hawana Salalah, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the kind of pure, unadul­ter­ated fun that you just can’t put into words. One that has to be ex­pe­ri­enced to be felt. The feel­ing that truly does make Oman the Essence of Ara­bia.

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